Going out to a rock concert in Seattle can often feel like a foreign-exchange program. I'm not talking about the musicians, but about the concertgoers from Seattle's other walks of life whom you might not otherwise encounter.
John Roderick is the singer and songwriter responsible for Seattle's The Long Winters. His column runs every Tuesday on Reverb.
Depending on the show, the audience might be a much livelier mix of people than the acts they paid to see. Although most of the audience won't stand out as particularly distinctive, being clad in virtually identical fleece pullovers, certain subgroups bear mentioning.
Here's a rough guide to some of the people you might encounter at a show:
1. Bridge-and-Tunnel. The most conspicuous people at any concert are the "bridge-and-tunnel" crowd, the young professional people who in the process of "clubbing" occasionally (perhaps accidentally) tumble into rock concerts. They're recognizable by their "casually elegant" clothes and by the fact that they are having a conspicuously good time, screaming "WOOOO!" at the top of their lungs, and getting very drunk on Long Island Iced Teas.
They come to rock shows either because one of them discovered Band of Horses in an in-flight magazine and is now trying to evangelize his friends, or because somebody works at Zune and is contractually obligated to do cool things twice a month. You will find they always travel in packs of seven, they can't moderate their voices, and they wear the wrong shoes.
2. Scenesters. The young, callow scenesters, in contrast, seldom stray far from their protected enclaves around the Pike/Pine corridor, and they can be quite aggrieved when Friday night (amateur night) brings visitors from faraway places like Ballard or Queen Anne. They do not want to interact with tourists, and are mostly engaged in an elaborate display of plumage meant to attract their own kind.
Although the proliferation of army jackets, ammunition belts, ill-fitting sunglasses, and neck tattoos might lead one to assume they are tough and dangerous, these young persons are very delicate creatures, and it's important not to psychically injure them. In most cases, the best policy is to treat them politely but not TOO politely, as their culture cannot handle directness of any kind. In the event of conflict, do not attempt to employ sarcasm. This is their one true martial art. They will destroy the casual ironist with ruthless efficiency.
Scenesters see themselves as DRASTICALLY different from the bridge-and-tunnel crowd and will silently heap scorn upon them, but this scorn will be invisible to everyone but the few "casually elegant" dudes who had a band in college and quit playing music when they got hired at Getty Images. These few guys will be devastated. The rest of the "weekend warriors" are almost completely immune to psychic damage.
3. Hippies. Seattle is also home to a diverse "hippie" subculture, and although most of the truly hardcore hippies will self-segregate and only attend shows that are truly boring, quite a good number have only a mild condition and love a wide variety of music. The Pacific Northwest is home to unique hybrids: granola punkers, kayaking Pavement fans, NPR/world-music Subaru drivers, and pescetarian moms who love KEXP.
In general, these people will be doing the dancing. Mostly they will confine it to their personal-space area, but occasionally an enthusiastic and/or stoned hippie will begin twirling. If possible, do not become irritated or hostile if a hippie is dancing near you. Any attempt to communicate that the dancing is inconsiderate might well induce an incomprehensible lecture on the genocide in Darfur, or worse, yoga.
For the most part, Seattle rock hippies blend into their surroundings and are impervious to scorn. The fleecy parts of them are actually quite soft.
4. The aging hipster. Finally, the bulk of people at any Seattle rock show are aging hipsters. Occasionally two of them might get their wallet chains tangled and appear to be dancing, but they'll quickly sort it out. Aging hipsters congregate in places where the bedrock values of cheap beer in cans and Telecasters are honored, so they rarely venture far from Ballard. Soon it will be easy to avoid them completely, unless you are actively looking for a part for your sailboat. In the meantime, they are the easiest concertgoers to deal with, since they generally show up late, stand in the back, talk to each other, leave early, tip well--and unless they actually played in the Fastbacks, probably won't spill beer on your shoes.
It is possible to hurt an aging hipster's feelings, but he/she might not register the insult until the following morning. This is what almost all the young scenesters will one day become.
The many other subcultures, including authentic punkers (as opposed to mall-punk, which is a kind of children's music), Cornish art/jazz, NW hip-hop (as opposed to mainstream hip-hop, which is a kind of children's music), and the fringe scenes that veer from circus music to lesbo-anarcho-folk-punk, are all subsumed under these four main umbrellas. If you notice any of the above-mentioned mainstream music consumers, including major-label "emo" punks and MTV-driven R&B/rap fans, they are probably lost and should be directed to the nearest Xbox. Occasionally one will have an actual cultural experience, in which case give them plenty of water.
The one type of music fan that cuts across all subgroups is the "really tall guy" who stands in front of all the tiny girls up next to the stage. Really tall guys should move to the back of the crowd without complaining, but in return lazy small girls standing at the back should not chastise them for being tall.